of Ragnar’s Sons
© Peter Tunstall, 2005
1. King Ragnar
After the death of King Hring, his son Ragnar came to power
The jarl, her father, had given her a baby snake for a present one morning. To begin with, she kept it in a box. But in time, this snake got so big that it coiled right round the bower and bit its own tail. It grew so fierce then that no one dared come near the bower, except her servants and those who fed it, and it ate an ox a day. Folk were very scared, and they could see that it would do great harm, so big and fierce had it become. The jarl made this solemn vow at the bragarfull, the ceremony of the chief’s cup, that he would give his daughter Thora in marriage to none but the man who could kill that snake, or who dared go and talk with her there in front of the snake.
when King Ragnar hears this news, he goes to
And afterwards he went to war and liberated the whole kingdom. He had two sons with Thora, one called Eirik, the other Agnar. And when they were a few years old, Thora takes sick and she died. After that, Ragnar married Aslaug, whom some call Randalin, the daughter of Sigurd Fafnir’s Bane and Brynhild Budli’s daughter. They had four sons. Ivar Boneless was the eldest, then Bjorn Ironside, then Hvitserk, then Sigurd. There was a mark is his eye, as if a snake lay around the pupil, and that’s why he was called Sigurd Snake-in-Eye.
2. The Death of Ragnar’s Elder Sons
Now when Ragnar’s sons were fully grown, they went raiding
far and wide. The brothers Eirek and Agnar were second in rank
after Ragnar, and Ivar third with his younger brothers, and he was the leader
because he was very clever. They conquered
King Ragnar wasn’t too pleased about
this, that his sons had turned against him and taken his tributary lands against
his will. He set up a man called Eystein Beli as king over
One summer, when King Ragnar had gone east over the Baltic
with his army, his sons Eirik and Agnar came to
King Eystein offered peace to Eirik and as much of the wealth of Uppsala as he wanted in compensation for his brother Agnar and, along with that, he could have his daughter Borghild, just as he’d asked. Eirik didn’t want any money, and he didn’t want the king’s daughter, and he says he doesn’t want to live after such a defeat as he’s just had. But this, he said, this is what he would accept: to choose for himself the day of his death. And since King Eystein couldn’t get any settlement out of Eirik, he agreed to that.
Eirik asked them to catch him from below on spear-points and so lift him up above all the slain. Then chanted Eirik:
“Don’t care, cur, to hear you,
killer if you offer;
(Eystein, they say, slew Agnar)
I don’t want your daughter.
To mourn me I’ve no mother;
make haste, hey!, impale me.
I’ll die over host hoisted,
highest o’er the slaughter.”
And before he was lifted up on the spears, he saw a man riding hard. Then he said:
“Send word to my slender
sweet stepmother, greet her:
(my forays east are ended)
say all my rings are hers.
Great will grow their anger
when they get to know it,
when she brings her bounteous
boys news of my demise.”
Now it was done, just as he’d said: Eirik was raised up on the spear-points, and he died thus, up above the slain.
when word of this reaches Aslaug in
“I doubt, if they’d made it,
and you lot had fallen,
(with loved ones not living)
they’d let you go forgotten
—I say and make no secret—
six whole months sans vengeance,
if Eirik lived, and Agnar—
I who never bore them.”
Then Sigurd Snake-in-Eye answered:
“In three weeks we’ll be through with
(if that grieves you, mother)
(long the way that waits us)
war-readying of levies.
Eystein’s rule’s soon over
—even if he offers
payments big and brazen—
if our blades prove true then.
Then said Bjorn Ironside:
“Heart will hold, heroic,
in a hawk-keen torso:
doughty, daring, though I
don’t shout out about it,
nor snakes nor beady serpents
sit in my eyes spiralled.
Those men made me merry:
your stepsons I remember.”
Then answered Hvitserk:
“Let’s plan, before vowing,
how vengeance might be managed,
various vile torments
devise for Agnar’s killer;
heave hulls onto billows,
hew ice aside, slice it.
Let’s see whose sloop’s scrambled,
schooners to sea, soonest.
Then Ivar Boneless said:
“Pluck you have in plenty
and pith as well with it:
let’s trust too you’re stubborn,
as tough heads are needed.
I’m borne before my fighters
forward though I’m boneless,
I have hands for vengeance,
though hardly strength in either.”
After that, Ragnar’s sons mustered an overwhelming army. And when they were ready, they went with a fleet to
King Eystein hears word of this and raises an army against them, with every man of fighting age who was in his realm. And when they met, a mighty battle ensued, and Lodbrok’s sons had the victory, and King Eystein fell, and news of this battle spreads far and wide, and very famous it becomes.
Out campaigning, King Ragnar hears of it, and he’s less than happy with his sons, as they’d taken revenge
without waiting for him. And when he comes home to his
realm, he says to Aslaug that he’ll do deeds no less famous than his sons have
done. “I’ve now won back almost all the lands that my forebears held, but not
Aslaug answered, “You could have had many longships
made for the price of these knorrs. And besides, you know that big ships are no
good for going to
But all the same, King Ragnar goes west to
3. The Fall of Ragnar and the Vengeance of his Sons
At that time, there was a king called Ella ruling over
when the sons of King Ragnar hear this news, they head west to
Ivar stayed in
Then he sends word to his brothers and says it’s more likely they’ll be able to avenge their father now
if they come with an army to
But when they clash, a good many leaders leave the king and go over to Ivar. The king was outnumbered then, so that the greater part of his forces fell, while he himself was taken captive. Ivar and the brothers now recall how their father was tortured. They now had the eagle cut in Ella’s back, then all his ribs severed from the backbone with a sword, in such a way that his lungs were pulled out there. As Sighvat says in the poem Knutsdrapa:
“Ivar, he who
held court at
had eagle hacked
in Ella’s back.”
After this battle, Ivar made himself king over that part of
The sons of Lodbrok went raiding in many lands:
Sigurd Snake-in-Eye married Blaeja, the daughter of King Ella.
Their son was Knut, who was called Horda-Knut, who
succeeded his father in
4. Of King Gorm
Gorm took the kingship after his father. He married Thyri,
who was called
Ivar the Boneless was king in
Towards the end of his time, a Danish army came to England,
and the leaders of the army were Knut and Harald, the sons of King Gorm. They
seized large parts of the kingdom in Northumbria, which Ivar had owned. King Adalbrigt
marched against them and they fought north of
King Gorm was in Jutland at the time. And when he heard these tidings, he collapsed and he died of grief at the same hour the following day. Then Harald, his son, ruled in Denmark. He was the first of his kin to take the faith and be baptised.
5. The Fall of Sigurd Hart
Sigurd Snake-in-Eye and Bjorn Ironside and Hvitserk had raided
Helgi Hvassi, the Sharp, was the name of Gudrod’s brother. He escaped from the battle with the standard of Sigurd Snake-in-Eye, and his sword and shield. He went home to Demark with his own forces and there found Aslaug, Sigurd’s mother, and told her the tidings. Then Aslaug spoke a verse:
“Sad sit the corpse-stalkers,
slaverers after cadavers:
the slain-craver, raven—
what a shame!—forsaken
by namesake of Sigurd;
in vain now they’re waiting.
Too soon from life Lord Odin
let such a hero go.”
But because Horda-Knut was young, Helgi stayed with Aslaug for a long time as protector of the land. Sigurd and Blaeja had a daughter. She was Horda-Knut’s twin. Aslaug gave her own name to her and brought her up then and fostered her. Afterwards she married Helgi Hvassi. Their son was Sigurd Hart. Of all the men ever seen, he was the fairest, and the biggest, and the strongest. They were the same age, Gorm Knutsson and Sigurd Hart.
When Sigurd was twelve, he killed the berserk Hildibrand in a duel, and he single-handedly slew twelve men in that fight. After that Klakk-Harald gave him his daughter, who was called Ingibjorg. They had two children: Gudthorm and Ragnhild.
Then Sigurd learnt that King Frodi, his father’s brother, was dead. He went north to Norway and became king over Ringerike, his inheritance. There is a long story told of him, as he did all manner of mighty deeds.
But it’s said of his passing, that he rode out hunting in the wilderness, as was his custom, and Haki Hadaberserk came at him with thirty fully armed men and they fought with him. Sigurd fell there, after first killing twelve men, but King Haki had lost his right hand and received three other wounds besides. Afterwards Haki and his men rode to Ringerike, to Stein, where Sigurd’s dwelling was, and took away Ragnhild his daughter, and his son Gudthorm, and plenty of goods too, and carried them off home with him to Hadeland. And soon after that, he had a great feast prepared and meant to celebrate his wedding, but it was put off because his wounds weren’t healing. Ragnhild was fifteen years old then, and Gudthorm fourteen. Autumn passed, and Haki was laid up with his wounds till Yule.
At this time, King Halfdan the Black was staying at his estate in Hedmark. He sent Harek Gand with a hundred and twenty men, and they marched over the frozen Lake Mjøsa to Hadeland one night and came the next morning to King Haki’s home and seized all the doors of the hall where the retainers were sleeping. And then they went to King Haki’s bedroom and took Ragnhild and Gudthorm, her brother, and all the treasure that was there, and carry it off with them. They burnt all the retainers in their hall and then leave. But King Haki got up and got dressed and went after them for a while. But when he came to the ice, he turned down his sword-hilt to the ground and fell on the point and met his death there, and he’s buried on the bank of the lake.
King Halfdan saw them coming over the ice with a covered wagon
and guessed their mission had gone exactly as he wished. He had a message sent
then to all the settlements and invited to all the important people in Hedmark
to a big feast that very day. There he celebrated his wedding to Ragnhild, and
they lived together for many years after. Their son was King Harald the Fine-Haired,
who was first to become sole ruler over the whole of